5 Books That Tell Stories Of and By Adivasis

Ruby Hembrom recommends books to read from adivaani, her Adivasi publishing house

29 Jun 2020

Established in 2012 by Ruby Hembrom, adivaani (‘the first voices’) is an archiving, chronicling, publishing and disseminating platform of and by the Adivasis, created to document oral forms of storytelling and highlight the struggles and exploitation faced by tribal communities in India. We ask Hembrom, Founder and Director of adivaani, to recommend five books from their roster of titles.

‘A Girl Swallowed by a Tree’ Lotha Naga Tales retold by Nzanmongi Jasmine Patton (2017)

Nzanmongi Jasmine Patton is a writer who retains the flavour of oral literature through her work, including words in the Lotha language that is spoken in the Wokha district of Nagaland. While some of these words are culturally untranslatable, Patton brings them to the fore from the point of view of the narrator. According to the poet Easterine Kire, Patton takes us back to an age when “all animals and insects could talk, and streams could babble, and all creation had the gift of language”.

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‘Social Work in India (Tribal and Adivasi Studies, Perspectives from Within), Volume 3’ Edited by S R Bodhi (2016)

Blurring the lines between the subject and object for the Indigenous people of India, this volume is an act in epistemological reconstruction. It envisages asserting and achieving greater depth and clarity of unravelling a distinct methodological position sourced from the discipline of social work.

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‘Sosobonga: The Ritual of Reciting the Creation Story and the Asur Story Prevalent Among the Mundas’ by Ram Dayal Munda and Ratan Singh Manki (2015)

Sosobonga, the prayer of the Soso tree, is the ultimate expression of love and respect for Mother Earth within the Munda and the Asur people in Jharkhand. Narrated orally, the epic aims not only to present how human life came into existence but also introduces us to a story in search of equilibrium and reciprocity among humans — between themselves and other beings as well.

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‘Illustrated Pursuits: W S Sherwill in India, 1834-1861’ by Ngaire Gardner (2016)

Military officer and illustrator Walter Stanhope Sherwill’s drawings are a window to our ancestors — of a time that is but a memory. The book is a testimony to historical material made available to the descendants of Sidhu Murmu and Kanhu Murmu, leaders of the Santhal Rebellion of 1855-57, and the others who have been represented by Sherwill through his artistry.

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‘Disaibon Hul’ by Ruby Hembrom and Saheb Ram Tudu (2014)

Disaibon Hul (‘let’s remember the Hul’) is a tribute, celebration and commemoration of the Santhal Rebellion of 1855–57 and honours the Santhal men, women and children who stood up to the oppression and exploitation at the hands of the zamindars, traders, the British crown and its agents through a retelling of our collective history in an illustrated format.

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